Bertrand Piccard and his crew presented the first airplane to be flying with only solar power. In the presence of the Swiss Minister for Traffic and Environment, Moritz Leuenberger, and HH Prince Albert II of Monaco, the new aircraft Solar Impulse was unveiled at the military airbase in Dübendorf, Switzerland.
The airplane Solar Impulse HB-SIA presents itself as a major high tech compendium. Its wings are as wide as that of an Airbus 340, but while the latter weighs 448 tonnes, Solar Impulse brings it to a mere 1,500 kilograms. The top of the wings are completely covered in solar panels, and the machine is equipped with rechargeable batteries to enable night flight. The ingenious use of light weight materials is adequate for the single occupant flying while their use for heavier freight still has to be proven.
The development of Solar Impulse took six years with a team of 70 people working on it. The airplane presents itself with the ability to fly without fossil energy; it is able to fly on solar power alone and this includes starting and landing procedures which are accomplished by solar power as well. The first test flights in Swiss airspace are scheduled later this year, starting at the military airbases in Dübendorf and Payerne. A transatlantic flight and a trip around the world are planned for to take place during the next three years.
Bertrand Piccard is best known for being the first human to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon. He stated at the unveiling of Solar Impulse that it proves possible to plan air and ground transport on solar energy. He hopes that it gives some much needed impulse to the decrepit European and American car and aerospace industries to finally start into the technological future instead of rehashing the past and needing bailouts every few years.
His ideas for the future must be offset against a study published in Berlin this spring, wherein it is claimed that certain necessary elements used in technology might become a source for concern as to their availability. Modern technology uses a wide range of rare elements, including Neodymium, Gallium, Indium, Scandium, Germanium, and Tellurium. Not only their scarcity is a matter for concern, but also their geographical distribution; China for instance controls 70 percent of the known Indium reserves and a whopping 97 percent of Neodymium.
It seems therefore, that not only the industry is laggard, but also the prospectors around the world. It is high time that more of these rare elements are traced and exploited; the industry is called on as well to find alternative solutions instead of just trudging their old paths which only lead to more unnecessary bailouts prompted by lack of imagination and interest in the company on management level. The level of inertia is proportional to the level of bonus payments, meaning the higher the bonuses paid to the management, the higher the prospect of total lack of innovation becomes.
As to the question how relevant such studies are: They are as reliable as Nostradamus and as well researched, but sometimes they at least reflect a general trend as with this one commissioned by the German government. The figures are haphazard, as they must be, and predicting a higher use of any material for the future doesn’t even need a crystal ball.